Genesis 9.8-17; 1 Peter 3.18-22
Welcome to the First Sunday of Lent …
It began on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday!
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
here’s who I am,
this is my life,
here’s where it begins … here’s where it’ll end …
and in between … a life - a life to live.
take hands with a neighbor, lift up the fallen,
offer kindness and grace, go to bat for each other,
speak truth to power,
live in faith, hope, and love.
Ask plenty of questions.
Never be afraid of doubt.
Laugh when you can; cry when you must.
And never, ever, be afraid of love … it will take you to good places, even dangerous places, places where Christ lives.
Ash Wednesday … ashes to ashes, we all fall down.
Reality #1, we’re mortal to the core …
When we’re young, life stretches out ahead as if it were forever … and then some time in our late 30s, early 40s, we begin to hear the clock tick …
calendar pages pick up speed …
time hastens on …
we look at retirement and sign up for medicare.
insurance companies pester us to take care of our loved ones. and - “make those final arrangements” …
Mortality… we don’t have to dwell on it, but maturity of character requires our awareness of it … honesty demands it … life needs it.
To help us value what’s important, straighten out our priorities … keep little things in check, so we can focus on the really big things, the things that count!
When Sally died, her children and grandchildren took up the task of disposing of her belongings … a house full of old furniture and nicknacks, doilies and books … in the attic, several large boxes, full of china - every piece carefully wrapped and tucked away - beautiful, expensive, china … apparently never used.
One of the grandchildren asked, “Why was this never used? What is it for? I never saw any of this on her table.”
One of the other children said, “She began collecting this as a young lady, and then throughout the years, kept adding to the collection … I think she was saving it for some special occasion.”
A special occasion that never came!
Ashes to ashes, we all fall down.
Reality #2 … sin … now that’s a word to get everyone excited … am I right???
Sin is a part of the story … tragedy, cruelty, selfishness, all curled up tight in our souls.
Sinners we are.
Has the church made too much of sin? I believe so …
Some parts of the Christian church have devoted way too much time to sin.
Sin is fun to preach … damning a few souls to hell before breakfast has been the stock in trade for many a priest and preacher … whoopee doopee ding dang.
But ignoring sin doesn’t help either … we all know something about the darker side of life, for ourselves, for others … sin is a part of our reality.
Jesus said to the mob ready to stone a woman to death, Let the one without sin throw the first stone.
I don’t know what sin is, exactly … but I know what it looks like:
A tree shattered by lightening …
Life shattered, life torn apart, life broken …
families torn apart …
nations pitted against one another …
the soul at war with itself …
broken, bent, twisted and torn.
Ashes to ashes, we all fall down.
Ash Wednesday helps us say the simple, but important words, “I’m sorry …
I’m sorry for what I have done, for what I have said … I’m sorry for what I could’ve done, and didn’t … I’m sorry for what I should’ve said, but chose silence instead.
The road to life requires reality …
We are mortal creatures, with only so much time.
We are sinners, always in the need of grace.
All religions deal with this … one way or the other … here we are, in this Christian place, a Presbyterian Church, and here’s a place, as good as any, and far better than some, to grow into the goodness and promise of life … to embrace our realities, understand their importance … the stuff of maturity.
And what is maturity? Mindful of the realities that hurt and harm, we set our minds upon the greater realities of goodness and mercy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way:
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
Ash Wednesday - behind us - ahead of us now, the Lenten Road.
Come, and follow me says Jesus, one step at a time … on the Road to Jerusalem,
to the heart of the matter,
to confront the demonic powers …
religion upside down, government harsh and cruel …
religious leaders long on law and short on love …
political leaders who know only the sword and the spear …
and the people, always the people - who get lost in the shuffle, shoved to the side, ignored and even despised … the widow, the orphan, the stranger at the gate … so many who have no voice, but heaven hears their cry.
There is work to be done …
The immediate story ends on Good Friday … a crown of thorns, nails pounded into flesh and bone, a spear thrust into the ribs … three men executed that day, as enemies of the state … but God is the God of the Second Chance, the third and the fourth chance, the fifth and sixth, an infinite number of chances, moments, rewrites on the script, start-overs, mulligans on the golf course, and new days before us.
What looked like the end, wasn’t the end at all … there is always Easter … and a stone rolled away.
The gospel goes forth:
be not afraid …
you are mortal … God’s love is eternal.
you are a sinner … God is merciful.
walk the Lenten Road …
you’re with the LORD, and the LORD is with you.
Ashes to ashes, we all fall down … and the hand of Christ lifts us up to a better day …
Look for the sunshine behind the clouds.
Take note of a child’s smile.
Listen to the parrots squawking and screeching their way across the morning sky.
Remember your friends.
Give special attention to those who are hurting.
Be mindful of your loved ones, and tell them every day you love them.
Buy a new cookbook.
Take some art lessons.
Celebrate your goodness; appreciate your gifts.
Pay attention to the world, the good, the bad, and the ugly … stay the course: love God for all your worth, and for all your worth, love your neighbor!
It is the Lenten Road we travel …
It is the Way of Christ we follow …
Hallelujah and Amen!